Preview: Denver Nuggets return home to continue preseason against Timberwolves

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

Preseason hoops are about the process, not the results. For the Denver Nuggets, that has certainly been the case through two games, as close losses to the LA Clippers and Golden State Warriors shouldn’t be the focus compared to the play of the team’s key rotation members and new faces.

Players such as Bones Hyland, Aaron Gordon, and PJ Dozier have stood out this week, while Nikola Jokić returned Wednesday night and dropped a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double in one half of action.

Heading into Denver’s third preseason game, the focus now shifts to ironing out the remaining kinks, including taking care of the ball on offense and defending the 3-point line. The Nuggets return home to face the Minnesota Timberwolves at Ball Arena Friday night.

Minnesota is aiming to take another step in the right direction under the first full season with Chris Finch as head coach, along with better luck in terms of player health. With Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards leading the way, the Timberwolves possess plenty of offensive firepower.

INJURY REPORT:

WILL BARTON – LEFT ANKLE SPRAIN. QUESTIONABLE.

MICHAEL PORTER JR. – LEFT KNEE SORENESS. QUESTIONABLE.

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT ACL SURGERY. OUT.

TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Gordon gaining comfort

One major takeaway from the first two preseason games has been Gordon inserting himself more on the offensive end of the floor, thus allowing the 26-year-old to showcase his versatile skill set.

Against Golden State, Gordon dropped 16 points (2-of-3 from beyond the arc) to go along with four rebounds and three assists. That performance came after Monday’s game against the Clippers, where Gordon also dished out three assists.

Expected to shoulder a larger offensive role to begin the season, Gordon’s increased playmaking and aggressiveness in searching for his shot during the preseason has been a welcomed sight.

Dozier primed for breakout season?

Another area of focus throughout Denver’s first two preseason games has been the play of Dozier, who enters the 2021-22 season fully healthy following a shortened 2020-21 campaign. The 24-year-old already projected to be one of Denver’s better perimeter defenders, but Dozier has showcased more of his offensive capabilities this past week, averaging 12.5 points on 52.9 percent shooting from the field.

Dozier has always been an effective cutter but improving his on-ball capabilities and 3-point shooting will go a long way in carving out more playing time this season and boosting Denver’s backcourt depth. Given his versatility on the defensive end, Dozier is primed to receive plenty of opportunities to help out the Nuggets this season.

Figuring out a bench rotation

With three more preseason games to go, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has a tall task ahead of him when deciding on a go-to second unit to start the regular season. Assuming full health on opening night (excluding Jamal Murray), Denver projects to start Monte Morris, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Gordon, and Joke.

That leaves players such as Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers, Dozier, JaMychal Green, Jeff Green, and Bones Hyland fighting for minutes in that second unit, with others such as Zeke Nnaji and Bol Bol working to crack the rotation.

Malone will likely rely on his veterans to begin the season, but given Hyland’s impressive start to the preseason, there could be opportunities for an instant offense type of guard to crack the backcourt rotation early in the year.

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